Point play puzzles Pearl

Tennessee will be looking for better play from its point guards when the Vols host Arkansas tonight at 8 in Thompson-Boling Arena. Based on Saturday's game at LSU, it can't get much worse.

Sophomore starter Ramar Smith went 0 for 4 from the field and 1 of 2 from the foul line in Baton Rouge. He finished the afternoon with 1 point, 2 assists and a turnover in 30 nondescript minutes.

Senior backup Jordan Howell, slowed by a flu-type virus, also went 0 for 4 from the field. He finished with 0 points, 0 assists and 3 turnovers in 10 awful minutes.

Given the poor play of the point guards, it's little wonder that Tennessee had to struggle mightily to nip the hapless Tigers 47-45.

"We did not get good point-guard play against LSU," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl conceded. "Jordan Howell was very much under the weather, as was (shooting guard) JaJuan Smith."

Even before he was battling a virus, however, Howell was battling a mini-slump. He has made just 4 of 20 field-goal tries over the past four games, including 3 of 17 from 3-point range. He also had a 4-turnover, 4-foul game Jan. 29 at Alabama.

Ramar Smith's slump has been even more alarming, since he is the starter and the catalyst of Tennessee's transition attack. He is 5 of 19 from the field over the same four-game period, even though most of his shots are layups at the end of dribble drives.

Smith has scored but 17 points over the past four games, an average of just 4.2 per contest. That's disappointing production from a guy who averaged 10.7 points per game as a true freshman one year ago.

Basically, Smith is consistently getting to the basket. He just isn't finishing when he gets there.

"Ramar is getting where he wants to get but his confidence isn't where it normally is," Pearl said. "He'll be fine. I keep reminding him of his play in the Pilot Rocky Top (Summer) League ... coming off ball screens and shooting the ball."

Strangely enough, Smith had 10 double-figure scoring outputs in Tennessee's first 18 games. Since he rejoined the starting lineup five games ago, however, he has not hit double figures once.

"His not finishing around the basket is really surprising because he's one of our best two-point finishers," Pearl said. "That's one of the issues for us."

Fortunately for Tennessee, transfers Tyler Smith and J.P. Prince have enjoyed some success attacking the rim and finishing drives. They've picked up the slack somewhat, enabling the Vols (21-2 overall, 8-1 SEC) to continue winning during Ramar Smith's recent slump.

"Tyler and J.P. make us better in those areas," Pearl said. "But, because of the length and athleticism and size in the league, it's been difficult (finishing inside), and some of our shooting percentages reflect that."

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